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Vol. XVI • 1994

The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of
Ian Taylor

The history of the rise of humanism in Europe is the record of society's change in the way of thinking from being God-centered to becoming man-centered. The reason for this change was a reaction against an authoritarian rule by theologians who used Scripture to interpret nature but relied upon the writings of the "Ancients," principally Aristotle, to make those interpretations. This change in thinking began in the sixteen-hundreds and has continued into the present day but two names are recognized by historians as being responsible for initiating this humanist world-view. Those two names are Francis Bacon and Ren6 Descartes. For example, in the last century, the great historian W. E. H. Lecky (1866, 2:84) wrote:

All through the period of the Restoration ... The vast amount of skepticism existing in the country [Britain] caused the governing class to look with comparative indifference upon doctrinal differences; and the general adoption of the principles of Bacon and of Descartes, by the ablest writers, accelerated the movement [of toleration].

Writing more recently, Harvard political historian Mark Henrie (1987, 382) is more specific:

...modern rationalists with their complete skepticism about and animus towards existing social arrangements are most directly the heirs of Francis Bacon and René Descartes, who defined knowledge as universal human agreement based upon an infallible technique available to all: the scientific method. This narrow theory of knowledge is largely responsible for the prevalence of a mechanistic metaphor for reality and for the modern triumph of moral relativism, a perennial philosophical heresy which only in our age has presumed the robes of sacred truth.
Sir Francis Bacon gave the world the scientific method, sometimes known as the Baconian method, tentatively at first in 1605 then more forcefully in his Novum Organum in 1620. This was further amplified in his Advancement of Science published in Latin in 1626 then finally in English in 1640. The French philosopher-scientist, René Descartes, writing mostly from Holland published his "scientific method" anonymously at first in 1637 as the Discours de La Methode. Known as the "Cartesian method" this had been received as an inspiration thirteen years earlier in 1619. Each of these scientific methods is slightly different but the first step common to both is for the investigator to rid his mind of preconception or bias. This sounds perfectly laudable but is, in fact, quite contrary to human nature and in practice is seldom if ever, achieved. However, by making this the first demand, Scripture was abandoned as the basis for enquiry and, by default, was replaced by human reason.

This is the foundation for humanism and was introduced by the Baconian and Cartesian scientific methods. However, it is not the purpose of this essay to compare these scientific methods or to comment upon their deceptive nature but rather to trace and compare the source of each idea. In the case of Descartes, this is rather well documented but in Bacon's case the documentation is more obscure. Both men received their inspiration at about the same time and we will consider Francis Bacon first since he was the older man.

   FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626)

Historian James Spedding produced a seven-volume work on the life of Francis Bacon in 1861 and this has become the definitive work. However, much more information has been unearthed since that date and the darker pages of Bacon's life have slowly been revealed. In the late nineteenth century, Walter Begley discovered the correspondence of Anthony Bacon, the brother of Francis Bacon, in the Archiepiscopal library of Lambeth Palace, London. The documents from Anthony Bacon were written in French and one particular sonnet makes it clear that Francis Bacon not only had great poetical gifts but had confessed to taking the goddess Pallas Athene as his Muse and inspirer. Athene was the Greek goddess of wisdom and knowledge and represented in mythology and classical sculpture with the spear of knowledge in her right hand ready to destroy the serpent of ignorance writhing at her left foot. (Begley 1905)

Several other researchers working independently in the late nineteenth century made another surprising discovery about Francis Bacon. Bacon moved in the Royal circles of Queen Elizabeth I and at this time in English history there was great antagonism between the Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. The courts were full of spies and counter-spies and it was not unusual for written communications to be in cipher Bacon was a master in the use of cipher and, in fact, describes a clever cipher system still in use today in the opening to his Advancement of Learning. The researchers, including Dr Orville Owen and independently Elizabeth Gallop, broke the code used by Bacon. Owen (1898, 1:4) relates how Bacon was inspired at an early age after he had accepted Athene as his Muse:  

Bacon proceeds then to give the impelling motive that moved him to write the cipher... A heavenly voice came to him which said: "The Divine Majesty takes delight to hide his work, according to the innocent play of children; surely for thee to follow the example of the most high God cannot be censured. Therefore put away popular applause, and after the manner of Solomon, the king, compose a history of thy times and fold it into enigmatical writings and cunning mixtures of the theater..."
Another nineteenth century researcher, Constance Pott, unearthed a motherlode of documents which show the intimate association of Francis Bacon with the Rosicrucians of Germany and the Freemasons of England. In one such cache Pott (1891, 45) explains:
There are upwards of sixty letters from Anthony Stauden to Anthony Bacon. The drift of these letters, taken collectively, ... teach us that Francis Bacon was the recognized head of a secret society bound together to advance learning and to uphold religion, and that Anthony Bacon was his brother's propagandist and corresponding manager on the Continent.
In this century Alfred Dodd (1910) has produced massive documentation to show that this secret society of which Bacon was the father, was in fact, Freemasonry. He further shows a direct relationship between Freemasonry and the Royal Society of London. More recently, the works of the Italian philosopher-historian, Paolo Rossi, have been translated and in his Francis Bacon (1968,25) makes the statement:
It [Bacon's programme] recurs with further alterations in the Novum Organum and De Augmentis, but he did not set it down in its final consistent form till the New Atlantis, in a passage describing Salomon's House, where it is no longer presented as a project but as a Utopian dream. Indeed, this plan, never visualized during Bacon's lifetime, marked the birth of scientific humanism for the founders of the Royal Society and later for the Encyclopedists; and through humanism it has inspired some of the more progressive forms of European culture.
In summary, we see that Francis Bacon dabbled in the occult workings of the Rosicrucians, actively sought wisdom from the Greek goddess, Pallas Athene, and confessed to hearing a voice giving him instructions for his life's work. The crucial part of the work, the scientific method, came to him in its completed form about 1619 and was published in 1620 as his Novum Organum.

   RENÉ DESCARTES (1596-1650)

René Descartes was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, educated by the Jesuits and, as an intelligent twenty-three year old soldier-philosopher, was full of scientific enthusiasm and a burning desire to systematize all knowledge; he had just spent the previous twenty months studying mechanics and acoustics under Isaac Beeckman when he learned that the secret Rosicrucian sect in Germany were likewise in quest of knowledge. He sought out the mathematician Johann Faulhaber, a professor at Ulm, who was known to be a senior member of the Rosicrucians and spent the entire winter of 1619-1620 with him. Many biographers believe that Faulhaber initiated young Descartes into some of the secrets of that society, however, since membership in the Rosicrucians was at that time considered a crime both in Holland and France there is no concrete evidence that he actually joined. Descartes was always interested in the occult but to have joined would have risked losing his properties, and consequently his income, to the Church if discovered. Early in his relationship with Faulhaber he spent the entire day of November 10th 1619 alone in a heated room (pole) at Ulm meditating on the acquisition of knowledge. That night he had a dream which he carefully recorded in his daily account while he always claimed that his life's vocation was revealed to him in this dream. The dream consisted of three parts:

1) Descartes' first dream was that a tempestuous wind was whirling him about in the street as he struggled, hardly able to keep his feet, to reach the church of the College (of LaFleche) to say his prayers; at the very moment he turned to show courtesy to a man he had neglected to greet, the wind blew him violently against the church; soon someone, in the middle of the college courtyard, told him that an acquaintance of his bad something-a melon-to give him ... He experienced pain upon awakening, turned over on his right side, and prayed to God for protection against the bad effect of his dream.

2) After that, he fell asleep once more and had another dream that filled him with terror; he was awakened by a burst of noise like a crack of lightning and saw thousands of sparks in his room.

3) In the third and final dream he saw upon his table a Dictionary and a Corpus poetarum, open at a passage of Ausonius: quod vitae sectabor iter? (What path shall I follow in life?). An unknown man handed him a bit of verse-the words Est et Non (The `Yes" and "No" of Pythagoras represent truth and falsity in human attainment and in secular sciences. Pythagoras had studied the occult arts in Egypt then returned to teach the Greeks).

The exact meaning of the symbolism in these vivid dreams has been the subject of much dispute, see Maritain, 1944. However, for these present purposes it is sufficient simply to know that Descartes was convinced by these dreams that he had a divine mission to found a new philosophical system. He records that he vowed to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin at Loretto, Italy, and this was in all likelihood fulfilled the following year when he did, in fact, go to Italy. (Cottingham 1986, 10) In the months which followed his strange dream, Descartes produced his Meditations and these are at the very core of all Cartesian philosophy; later these were expanded into his Diseours de La Methode. Descartes held the dream itself to be, "the most important thing in his life" and even spoke of the "genius" of his Meditations and that this genius or spirit "had forecast these dreams to him before he had retired to his bed" (Maritain 1944, 13-19). Many philosophers and scientists since, including Leibnitz who was himself a Rosicrucian, downplay these dreams arguing that the account of them lessens the credibility of an otherwise very important philosophical system.

In summary, we see that René Descartes was seriously involved with the same occult organization as Francis Bacon and, as a devout Roman Catholic, paid homage to the Virgin goddess. At just about the time Bacon received the inspiration for his scientific method, Descartes received his strange dream (1619). This dream was at the root of the Cartesian method and, like the Baconian method, ushered in the humanist worldview.


Scripture is not silent about these matters and, in the case of Descartes, is almost specific. Bearing in mind that the Hebrew makes the distinction between God's light [OR] and man's light [MAOR] which is the analog for God's wisdom and man's wisdom, we find that seeking knowledge by man's light will inevitably lead to destruction:

Look all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourself with sparks; Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled - This you shall have from My hand; you shall lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:11)
The theologians of the Middle-Ages had quite rightly begun with Scripture but if they had followed this through with observation and experiment rather than relying upon the "Ancients" e.g. Aristotle, the course of history would have been very different. We have the benefit of hindsight today and hopefully can learn from the mistakes and deceptions of the past. True knowledge can only be attained by beginning with Scripture in its complete context and testing this by good observation and controlled experimental procedures.


Begley, Walter. 1905. Bacon's Nova Besuscitatia. London; Gay and Bird. 3 Vols. Found in Dodd p.100.
Cottingham, John. 1986. René Descartes. Oxford; Basil Blackwell.
Dodd, Alfred. (1910) 1986. Francis Bacon's Personal Life Story. London; Rider 2 Vols. in one.
Gallop, Elizabeth, (1901)1975. The Bi-Literal Cipher of Sir Francis Bacon... New York; AMS Press.
Henrie, Mark C. 1987. Reason, Unreason, and the Conservative. Modern Age (Quarterly Review, Bryn Mawr, PA).
Lecky, W. E. H. 1866. History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe. New York; fl. Appleton 2 Vols.
Maritain, Jacques. 1944. The Dream of Descartes. Translated by M. L. Andison New York; Philosophical Library.
Owen, Orville, W. 1893-95. Sir Francis Bacon's Cipher Story. Detroit; Howard Publishing.
Pott, Constance, M. 1891. Francis Bacon and His Secret Society. London; Sampson Low, Marston and Co.
Rossi, Psolo. 1968. Francis Bacon; From Magic to Science. London; Routledge and Kegan Paul.

"The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of"
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